BOZEMAN- Think the flat roof on MSU's gym led to the collapse? A local structural engineer says to think again.

When both sections of the Marga Hosaeus Fitness Center failed and caved in within a week, many in the community were quick to assume that a flat roof and the heavy snowfall were to blame.

Brad Ebel, principal engineer for Building Engineers INC in Bozeman, says snow weighing down the flat roof played a factor. But he doesn't believe it's the only reason that both sections of the fitness center caved in this month.

Ebel says for one thing, the roof wasn't truly flat. He said even roofs that look flat are still designed with a slope.

In addition, Ebel said buildings built in the 1970s, especially large buildings such as gyms and arenas, are notorious for structural issues. He says masonry and brickwork done in the 1960s and 1970s is known among engineering circles for being problematic.

He also says the California building most often destroyed in earthquakes tend to date from the 1960s and '70s. (Architectural engineers say they're working on reinforcing many of those old concrete buildings in California, and Seattle emergency officials say old brick buildings are an issue there, too.)

In Bozeman, Ebel theorizes that after more than 40 years of winter weather and minor earthquakes, the MSU gym weakened. 

 “I think these failures, once they get a chance to study them, they will find there is some design or construction flaw,” Ebel said.

Ebel added that he cannot pinpoint the exact reason that this roof collapsed, but he firmly believes multiple issues with the building probably brought it to this point.

The late-winter heavy snow was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

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